God and Awe: an excerpt from the novel, SOULJOURN (now in print!)

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(This passage from SOULJOURN owes a nod to Prof. Paul Laughlin of the religion department at Otterbein College in Ohio, who came up with the idea that God’s name is “awe” or “ahh”, since so many divine names end in that syllable….)

The allure of being up in the woods with a bunch of girls from Phoenix stayed with me that week. Besides, this was a religion I hadn’t tried yet. So I asked Dad if I could go.

“Why do you want to do this?” Dad asked as he stirred an iron skillet full of chile verde, my favorite dinner.

“You know, I’m into religion.”

“Do you know anything at all about Seventh Day Adventists?” he asked.

“Not much. Do you?”

“Not much. But I do know that they are some kind of fundamentalists. They believe that all the nonsense in the Bible is literally true,” said Dad.

“So?”

“You’re fifteen years old, and I think it’s time we talked about this religion business.”

“Okay. We’re talking.”

“I’m just concerned that you are getting into it over your head,” he said, putting the lid back on the skillet.

“You’re still afraid I’m going to turn out like Mom, aren’t you?”

He frowned. “That is not what I said, and not what I mean. You don’t have that problem. But still, people get carried away with religion. It’s easy for people, particularly young folks, to get sucked up into cults, get brainwashed, lose their perspective and their priorities. I guess I worry about you because you aren’t doing as well in school as you could be doing. You’re a really smart kid, but here you are, bringing home C’s and sometimes D’s. You’re reading Kierkegaard but pulling a C in English. What sense does that make? Ninety-nine point nine-nine percent of the kids at Portales High School have never even heard of Kierkegaard, and here you are, reading the kind of thing you read in a senior seminar in philosophy at the university. I’m all for intellectual curiosity, mind you. All for it. But we need to keep our priorities straight. Let’s get a decent grade in English before we study existentialism and theology, okay?”

“You’re saying this because you’re an atheist,” I complained. “You don’t like religion.”

“Well, it is true that I have no use whatsoever for organized religion, or much use for disorganized religion, for that matter. It isn’t just because I’m a hard-headed scientist, either. It’s because religion has a way of dividing people from each other, turning them against each other in the name of God. And it is true that I don’t believe in God, because I see no evidence of an intelligent creator of the universe. God is a useful hypothesis neither in science nor in my personal life.”

“That all depends on what you mean by ‘creator’,” I said. “Maybe God isn’t sitting off in a throne on the other side of the universe, telling everything when and how to happen. Maybe God is the process of creation itself.” I was pleased with my newly acquired ideas, and eager to nail my dad to the Wittenberg door with them.

“Well if that is all God is, why bother talking about God at all? Why not just talk about the process? Which is what we do in geology. The universe is awesome enough, without having to bring God into it,” answered Dad.

“Maybe God is awe,” I suggested. “Awe is God’s name. Budd-awe, Krishn-awe, Y-awe-weh, All-awe….”

And so on we bantered until the chile verde was cold.

___________

In your faith tradition, what’s the difference between the experience of sacred awe and the object, if any, of that awe?

 

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About Jim Burklo

Rev. Jim Burklo is the Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. An ordained United Church of Christ pastor, he is the author of three books in print, OPEN CHRISTIANITY (2000), BIRDLIKE AND BARNLESS (2008), and HITCH-HIKING TO ALASKA: THE WAY OF SOULFUL SERVICE (2013). See more about him at jimburklo.com .


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